Wairarapa set to become largest dark sky reserve in world

Wairarapa is set to become the largest dark sky reserve in the world.

Local councils have just flicked the switch on changes to public lighting, which will result in lower wattage bulbs on streets and highways.

The view of Wairarapa's night sky will be officially protected by law once it's written into the district plan early next year.

"It's so exciting, it finally feels like we're moving forward," says Becky Bateman, who runs the astronomy tour company Under The Stars.

"People are going to be under a dark sky for generations, our children are going to grow up under a dark sky which is really cool."

It's estimated 60 percent of the world's population can't see good starscape because of light and industrial pollution.

Under the plan change, Wairarapa's street and highway lights will be no brighter than 3000K, floodlights must be angled down where possible and event lighting will be restricted.

"People do worry they'll have to turn the lights off at ten o'clock," Bateman says. "But that's not true, it's all about controlling your lights and reducing light pollution."

It's taken astronomers, councils and conservationists just two years to get the required changes in writing and available for public consultation.

"Pretty fantastic actually. When we started in October 2017 we didn't think we'd be anywhere near this point," says Ray Lilley of the Wairarapa Dark Sky Association.

It might not look like much, but there's also the country's first-ever observatory - built in the Wairarapa in 1868 by Stephen Carkeek.

"What we'd like to do is preserve what's left. We want to build a replica right alongside which people can sit in and look at the same sky that Carkeek did in 1868,"  Lilley says.

This Stonehenge in Wairarapa is a hub for astronomy, and local councils are hoping that with accreditation from the International Dark Sky Association, tourism businesses like this one will be given a huge boost.

"It's certainly a string to our bow. It's also a year-round and a winter tourism attraction, which we've always been a bit shy on - we have the vineyards in summer," South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen says.

But with Saudi Arabia also vying for the title of world's largest dark sky reserve, Wairarapa might not hold it for long - unless New Zealand becomes a dark sky nation.